Musings Opinion

The Performative Nature of America

Always Camera Ready

It’s quite incredible how much society has shaped us into thinking we need to be “on” all the time. We have to be ready with the right inspirational quote, or drop a spicy take on some topic, to have a well-told story, to have the perfect Instagram-ready vacation photo no matter how you felt in the moment, or if you’re the more nuanced type, to also be mindful to not “say the wrong thing” to spark outrage online for simply sharing a thought about … anything. 

Nearly everything is now driven by platforms, or “the medium” to reference Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” – and our own behaviors in response to what’s happening on those platforms – to put our best and most curated foot forward. The person with the most polished presentation gets the most attention and moves “up” the ladder – wherever that ladder may be going. For better or worse, the most externally polished people tend to move up, especially on corporate ladders, sometimes in spite of them not being the right choice for advancement.

Over the past few years, the shift to remote work for office jobs meant being on camera a lot. It included becoming very self aware and self conscious of our appearance and our home workspaces. The peeking behind the home curtains was significant. That new requirement to make our personal homes look professional itself became a type of performance and of “being on” a stage (e.g. don’t move out of your chair, make sure your lighting isn’t terrible, that you also sound good, your background in your home working space is presentable, and so on) that I initially found quite exhausting. Have your opinions on remote vs. in-person white collar work, but it is undeniable that the experience of meeting over Zoom vs being in the same space together with other people is a very different energy that I find draining in ways unique from in-person work – which itself is also draining. Most of us were not built to be on camera like this.

I also have a newfound respect for news anchors who sit in the same chairs for hours with good posture. I need your workout routines for your cores/abs.

Do it for the Likes

As I scroll social media, I’m constantly in awe (maybe impressed?) when I consider the time, effort, and money people spend on content just for attention, likes, and views. Super fit people go shirtless in their Instagram posts or TikTok videos while they “explain” why it’s important to read books or list off signs of childhood trauma. People buy lots of equipment and lighting rigs for at-home studios for what isn’t even your paying job. And props to every person who ropes in friends or family to help stage and record some of the content I see. The commitment is truly admirable.

With easier access to technology and multimedia editing tools, more people have learned all the tricks in video editing and music selection to find the best ways to emotionally manipulate an audience. And I’m not sure how to feel about it all, but I think my eyeballs are supposed to be glued to all of it. Frankly, some of it works very well on me.  Yet, I can’t help but wrestle with what it means for us to be authentic and a “real person” when we’re all forced to live on a stage wherever we go online or in person. Who are all these people behind the entertaining content?

Social media continues to lean hard into the visual communication methods, with video currently being the leading preference for consumption. The explosive growth of TikTok is a clear example of this. Yet, I wonder where this leaves people like me who have no desire or inclination to be in front of the camera to create content and perform for others. My low frequency of selfies on any social platform is proof that I prefer to express myself behind the camera – and keyboard – instead. Where’s the chance to “make it big” and to go viral and be recognized for us non-visual performative types? Sure, good writers still get attention and article clicks, but that doesn’t go viral in the same way anymore. Maybe I’m just a guy with a personality fit for writing inane tweets, blog posts, and posting pictures of almost anything but myself.

Style Over Substance

Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to be boring and not be a spectacle.

Our culture continually rewards the bombastic, the over-the-top, the catchy message and video clip and phrasing that’s easy to cut up, quickly watch, and share. We then choose to intake only that content that either reinforces our perspectives and feelings or that which typically “eviscerates” the “other,” whoever that may be for you. And we, as everyday citizens, decided to follow what worked in mass media (news, etc.) into how we engage with each other online. It’s not about actual conversation. Instead, it’s about a performance we can put on to be seen. Along the way, we lost the ability to live with nuance, to consider the details, the unknown, to be comfortable in the in-between where everything is not black and white nor so easy to label.

Somewhere along the way, we traded difficult discourse for the easy diss. Where has that gotten us? Is this considered progress? Is anyone winning at anything here? What I take away from what I watch, read, and observe is the obviousness that we’re all out here trying to get attention. However, an increasing number of us are willing to change how we talk and sometimes do questionably moral things for eyeballs on us in spite of the cost. Is it really worth it?



Every once in a while, I am reminded that we need to remind others that we exist and of what we “bring to the table.” It is not the natural state for many of us to notice others. It is not my natural state to do things intentionally to be noticed.

As a self-identified introvert who is not generally a fan of any significant time in the spotlight and has openly admitted to being more comfortable in the supporting actor role, I, like any normal person, don’t want to be forgotten.  We need to be seen, too, particularly by those we deem important. Sometimes we even make efforts we can hope will be recognized by others. The challenge I have in trying to be my biggest cheerleader to either be personally or professionally noticed for my work is that it doesn’t feel authentic to call out that I have needs or to tout my achievements, respectively. It all has this performative vibe that is a hard hurdle for me to jump over. I have a hard time doing things that feel or look performative because the primary purpose is for attention. This will probably preclude me from living a life of an actor, social media influencer, or politician required to spend time in front of the camera.

Our culture has been designed to benefit and reward the loud voices in the room. It’s easier and less work to only recognize and look out for them. But what if those of us who are either leaders in an organization spent time and energy to notice the quiet contributors, support their careers, and be their cheerleaders when they don’t know how to be their own? Or to be that friend who genuinely makes an effort to listen more intently to what is being said – and perhaps as importantly, what is being left unsaid.

Listening and noticing are critical skills that pair exceptionally well with not speaking and providing your input and advice. I wish more people had these combos in their repertoire. The good news is there’s always time – and people in your lives – to build and refine these qualities in each of us.   


Nobody is a Stranger in Scotland

Once in a while you meet someone you didn’t quite expect and that person ends up imprinting a part of themselves onto you, whether they were intending to or not. And yet, you walk away from that experience being extremely grateful.

Hospitality and friendliness among the Scottish people is no secret. My friend and I experienced this throughout our travels around the countryside in guesthouses/B&Bs we stayed in, distilleries we visited, etc. Back in 2019, my friend’s Uncle Jimmy greeted me at the airport then welcomed me into his home for the night and hosted me for a full day taking my jetlagged self around Glasgow and treating me to a classic Scottish dinner: spicy curry. (A small side benefit to worldwide colonialism is bringing some tasty cuisine back to your home kingdom.) I recall how much the whole day and experience of his openness blew me away because I had only met him adjacently *one time* at my friend’s wedding seven years prior. I still talk about it with friends when that trip to Scotland comes up.

A similar opening of arms and heart greeted us upon this visit to Glasgow. On our last day in Scotland, Tim and I met up with a local whom he had met three years prior at a pub. We’ll call this local Allan because that’s his name. He told Tim next time he was in town to let him know and that they’d meet and hang out again. Promises were made and words were kept. After breakfast, Allan met up with us in our hotel lobby to be our local city guide. We had provided no guidance or clues on what we wanted to do, so Allan took us on a walking tour as he saw fit. He would not so discreetly be looking up factoids on his phone if he didn’t know something and be admirably patient with our indecisiveness when he’d ask, “what do you want to do next?” as we’d simply shrug nary a thought to be found in our heads.

What struck me with Allan, similarly to Uncle Jimmy (I have adopted him), was how open and friendly he was from the onset of first meeting me – and as I’m told also with Tim during their first encounter – without knowing me from Adam. And yet not only that, but also all the generous and mindful actions he took towards two relative strangers: picking up drink/meal tabs, transit tickets, observantly noticing when I felt out of place at the pub while a football (“soccer”) game was on, and making sure we “did something I wanted to do next,” to so thoughtfully buying me a nice tea mug “just like he has at home” to keep us connected after I returned. He had no reason to be so kind, yet I am eternally thankful to have been a recipient of his joyous and giving spirit.

Oh, he had some unexpected party tricks up his sleeve like balancing a full Guinness atop the edge of an empty glass and he did it with such elegance and humility.

balancing guinness

We don’t have enough Allan’s in the world. We need more people with no ulterior motives or expectations of anything in return in our interactions and relationships. I’ve already been marinating on how I need to change my perspectives and heart to embrace this type of more open and generous living.

What if we didn’t look upon strangers and new people with a side eye and so much caution? What if we worked towards having a more generous and welcoming presence to strangers who may one day turn into friends? Truly, nobody is a stranger in Scotland. I already have an invite to come back to visit Allan and I’m going to work on how to make that happen in the not too distant future.

And the teacup is lovely.

mad hatter tea cup
Musings Rant

In Your Own Words

In the last few years, I’ve watched people I know take on new personas online and spout off with positions on topics on social media and speak in tones and absolutes that would trouble me if I heard them talk that same way in person. I’ve seen how calloused and stubborn we have become in positions on everything from politics to medicine to foreign policy to religion and everything else in between. And in most of these areas, the people I’m referring to are not professionals in those spaces but speak with the authority and audacity (pride?) of someone who is. It is baffling. Why do we feel so compelled to sound right all of the time (and everyone else wrong)? 


2020, The Loss Of Nuance, and The Callousness of Selfish Gain

I was not ready for what this year became. I suspect you, reader, were not either. 

This year was hard. Though like many others I tried to make do with what was dealt. I spent more time alone than usual and wrote about feeling the need to be cared for as a single person. Travel was mostly nonexistent, save for one coordinated trip to the South for a week in June to see & quarantine with close friends. The April marathon I trained for was canceled. Yet I continued running throughout the year and almost logged 700 miles. Neighbor Bob and I masked up and replaced the basement and stair tile. I completed a year at my not-so-new job. I also made some new friends while nerding out over stationary. So not all was lost.

However,  I also found 4 gray hairs. That is not acceptable. Thanks a lot, 2020!  


Truthful Words (Should) Matter

How much does truth matter to you? 

Mm, what’d you say?
Mm, that you only meant well
Well of course you did
Mm, what’d you say?
Mm, that it’s all for the best
Of course it is
Mm, what’d you say?
Mm, that it’s just what we need
You decided this
– “Hide and Seek”, Imogen Heap

It’s a cliche at this point to say American culture is at a crossroads. Each generation says and feels that “it’s never been like this before.” And they would be correct. Our moment is no different; how we talk and write about it is, however.


Best Supporting Actor

Be the best supporting actor role in everyone else’s story

Me, Me, Me

American culture has an odd obsession with celebrity and being a star and unique. We are taught to see ourselves as important and as the center of our universe. Individually we are each the point from which all things revolve and rotate around. We each matter, probably more than the next person! It’s ok for goals, personal freedoms, and desires to take precedence over any unexpected repercussions in our ongoing quest for self-gratification. It’s self above all else. 


How to Care for Singles During a Quarantine

Let us remember to look after one another

Life is rarely easy. No matter how independent or self-sufficient or introverted we are or say we are, we need other people. For interaction, companionship, to love & be loved, for help, and so much more. In-person interaction is vital to our existence. However, that’s not something we all have easy access to, currently exacerbated by the current situation with COVID-19/Coronavirus. 

More Americans are living alone than ever before. Almost one third of the population lives alone. (I count myself among that population.) Like many introverts and so many memes, we’ve been “training for this all our lives” because we more often choose those times of solitude from interaction. Mildly funny, but a poor reflection of our current reality. That hasn’t previously excluded being alone in public, like coffee shops, stores, and restaurants.